Our siege of very cold weather has fortunately been accompanied by a blanket of snow keeping vulnerable roots of trees, shrubs and perennials relatively warm. Over the 45 years I’ve lived in Boise, I don’t recall prolonged cold such as this more than half a dozen times. Weather is not climate, however. Climate is the overall long-term view of weather, with temperature and precipitation averages.
Even though we’ve been cold for a while, the next few months may be warmer than average, making the Old Farmers Almanac prognosticators right. Unfortunately they’re predicting less precipitation than usual.
Cold weather doesn’t really chill the gardening yen, so many of us start seedlings at this time of year. Some start seeds in potting soil in clear or translucent containers, setting them out in the snow for Mother Nature to cold stratify seeds. That’s better than using refrigerator space for that purpose, provided we remember to vent those containers on hot days and add water when necessary.
I’m starting seeds indoors, transferring tiny seedlings to the greenhouse once germination is completed. So far I’ve started seeds for Italienischer lettuce, Matador spinach, two kinds of artichoke, Gobbo di Nizza cardoon, Hi-shi-ko bunching onions, primroses and Brown Goldring lettuce. Germination is meager on the latter, seeds may be too old for 100 percent germination.
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Other seeds I’ll start early are stalk and cutting celery, eggplants and chiles. Tiny seedlings have enemies such as mice eating foliage, fungus gnat larvae eating roots, and damping- off fungus killing seedlings. Damping-off fungus is evident by a clamping shut of the seedling at soil level, destroying its internal circulatory system. To prevent that, I use cooled chamomile tea (3 tea bags in about a gallon of water) to water seedlings. When they’re larger and begin to develop true leaves, I bottom water with tap water, using web-bottomed flats soaked in a cement-mixing tub. Local building supply stores sell such tubs for around $5. Some folks sprinkle tops of sown pots with cinnamon to prevent damping-off, others use synthetic fungicides such as Captan.
Friend Stella Schneider “sewed” a hardware cloth cover over greenhouse louvers, barring mice from my greenhouse. If fungus gnats are numerous, you can top soil with a layer of sand, foiling the gnats’ egg-laying.
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Many gardeners only grow “food for the soul,” or ornamental plants, but if that’s your practice, please re-think it. Future food shortages may be caused by drought, disease, animals, avalanche or landslide blocking rail traffic, or truckers’ strike. Growing your own is a safeguard for you and your family, in addition to the physical well-being generated by gardening activity and the psychological boost by your being in charge in a world where we have little control. The aroma of fresh earth is also mood-improving.
Many food plants are quite ornamental and may be mixed in with ornamentals as long as you do not use toxic pesticides in that area. Shade? Most vegetable growers are advised to grow most plants “in full sun,” but of late some experts now agree that most of those plants do best if they have a little shade at some point during each day.
Mail order seed vendors strive each year to offer a number of seeds for new plants. New plants may be varieties that vendor has never offered before or it may be a newly-bred variety. Some employ plant hunters, while others scout out desirable plants in other countries themselves.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds employ plant breeders, organically producing plants such as the Sunshine winter squash.
Vendors’ seed catalogs usually highlight their best new offerings on the first pages of their catalog. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has a new offering that should be there, but isn’t. They are carrying Pepicha, although they’re spelling it Pipicha. It’s a delicious hot-weather substitute for the cilantro that bolts to flower and seed in hot weather. Pepicha (Richters spelling) was formerly only available from Richters in Canada. It’s better tasting than another substitute, papaloquelite, to me.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.